WHAT’S NOT IN THE BROCHURE
Cruise ship secrets only an expert will know
Heading on a cruise this season? You’ve read the leaflets and scrolled through the websites but there are some secrets that only dedicated cruise travel agents and seasoned cruisers will know.
Here they let us in on their best cruise hacks.
FIRST-TIME CRUISER? BOOK A MID-SHIP CABIN
While first-time cruisers are busy deciding whether to book a balcony stateroom or save on an inside cabin, they often might not consider which actual part of the ship they should be booking their stateroom.
Cruiseco member and Discovery Travel Centre manager Andy Webber recommends booking a cabin that is towards the centre of the ship (midship) and on a middle or lower deck.
“There is less movement, which is better if you’re not sure whether you are susceptible to motion sickness,” he says.
There’s another reason to book midship according to Brett Dudley, founder and chairman at ecruising.
“I’d recommend a midship cabin because they are ideally located for easy access to either end of the ship,” he says.
CONSIDER ORGANISING YOUR OWN PORT EXCURSIONS
Ship-organised port excursions aren’t for everyone, and they can be on the expensive side. Robyn Sinfield, owner and manager of Home Travel Company and winner of the Inaugural Best Cruise Agency CLIA, recommends you consider exploring a port yourself.
“Expert cruise travel agents like me can advise where it’s easy to wander off in the morning, then you can come back for your already paid for lunch and wander off again in the afternoon,” she says.
“Who knows, you may have already met new friends on-board to share the experience with.”
And you might make some new friends at your destination too.
WEIGH UP THE DRINKS PACKAGE
Your cabin is booked, now what to do about the drinks? Should you prebuy a package or wing it and pay by the drink (which could include alcoholic beverages, soft drinks and coffee and tea). Andy Webber recommends weighing it up by counting the number of days the ship is in port compared to the number of days the ship is at sea.
“If your cruise has a lot of days in port then you will be spending more time exploring ashore and drinks are not included off the ship,” he says.
SEEK OUT THE HIDDEN GEMS ON-BOARD
You’re finally on-board and you’ve eyed off the pool area, perhaps even clocked which sun lounge you plan to stake daily. Carnival Cruise Lines travel agent Kristy Jensen stresses the importance of going beyond the familiar haunts and really exploring the ship when you board – you might be surprised.
“Take the time to explore all that the ship has to offer, including the smaller nooks where you can sit and read, as you never know what hidden gems you will find,” she says.
And to really see it all, Kristy recommends booking into a behindthe-scenes tour. “We highly recommend the Carnival Behind the Fun Tour, which takes you into the galley, dining room, backstage and to the crew training centre – this is where the magic happens,” she says.
WRITE YOUR EMAILS OFFLINE
While internet access has certainly improved at sea over the past couple of years as cruise lines invest millions in communication infrastructure, there is still likely to be some level of unreliability, especially as the ship gets farther out to sea.
Andy Webber recommends always buying a Wi-Fi or internet package if it is not included in the cruise fare.
“If sending emails, a good tip is to write them while offline and then copy and paste them when you are online – this way you only use as little of your allocated time as possible,’” he says.
THE STAIRS ARE QUICKER
Here’s a good game to try next time you’re on a cruise ship. Have someone take the lift at the lowest level to the top and at the same time have another person go the same route via the stairs. See who gets to the top deck first. Often it will be the stair-taker.
Lifts can be a wait, they are crowded, and often stop at every floor. The bonus in taking the stairs? You get all the exercise you need.
Andy Webber concurs. “If you can, make an effort to avoid the lifts and take the stairs whenever possible, this can be a quicker way to get around, and helps to work up an appetite,” he says.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF QUIET TIMES FOR SPECIALS
You might have spotted a treatment at the spa that looks appealing but baulked at the price.
“A little-known secret for firsttime cruisers is that one of the best times to enjoy the spa is while the ship is in port,” says Patrick Burke who has been on more than 60 sailings.
“Book in advance and, perhaps after a quick trip onshore, you can head to back-to-back treatments when the spa is less busy, and really make a day of it.”
BYPASS THE BUFFET
Ships that offer buffets can have queues forming outside the doors.
“The best way to avoid them is to see if on-board the main restaurant is open,” says travel agent Robyn Sinfield, who has spent 700 nights at sea.
“You can sit back and be attended to with fantastic service and less opportunity to over indulge.”
CONSIDER PRE-BOOKING INTO SPECIALTY RESTAURANTS
“Some of the ships have premium restaurants that attract an additional cover charge, so book these in advance – they often book out precruise and they are worth every cent, as the cover charge is a fraction of what you’d pay for the same type of meal on land,” says Brett Dudley from ecruising.
“An example is Jamie’s Italian on Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the
Seas, which is where you’ll pay around only $A40 for as many courses as you like.”
CONSIDER TIPPING FOR EXCEPTIONAL SERVICE
While cruise lines have varying policies for tipping, Mark and Leanne Weston, who have just taken their 100th cruise with Carnival, always recommend showing your appreciation for good service.
“Even though it isn’t customary for Aussies to provide a tip, we’re always more than happy to offer something to our cabin steward and dining room waiters as they make our trip unforgettable,” say the Westons.
“And you are not allowed to take them home with you!”
A LITTLE-KNOWN SECRET IS THAT ONE OF THE BEST TIMES TO ENJOY THE SPA IS WHILE THE SHIP IS IN PORT
There are plenty of nooks to explore aboard ships such as Harmony of the Seas (left); don’t miss the Queen Mary 2 spa, and weigh up port days in your drinks spend.